Posts Tagged ‘determination’

There are hundreds of ways a person can begin to open to the spirit within them. In every religion there are prayers, and songs, and dances, and poems, and liturgies that have been created to help their followers find the divinity within them. We have been practicing out loud by chanting and singing, and creating music with percussion, string, and wind instruments or silently, through contemplation, meditation, zazen, introspection, lectio divina, dance, and more. Others have used sweat lodges, art, mind altering drugs, and ancient rituals. But all have been designed to help the individual find that mystical, untouchable, elusive thing within them called life.

Two extraordinary women have recently gifted me two things—one was a book, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary by Kazuaki Tanahashi, and the other a journal article from Innovation Educativa which she is a co-author of entitled “The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education (Hall, O’Hare, Santavicca & Jones, 2015).” I have been moving between these pieces of writing with joy each presenting me with some fantastic ways to bring my practice into alignment with my life.

Thus I have decided to use these as a jumping off place for creating another workbook for the prison ministry in Florida of which I am one of their volunteers. The prison outreach ministry is sponsored by the Southern Palm Zen Group (Southern Palm Zen Group).

My first thought was what good I could get from the use of these techniques in my life, what I could discover about myself, and how I might even find my “true-self.” And then I read the paragraph below from Kaz’s book and discovered that what I really wanted to do was “understand” what he describes below and thus the workbook was born.

The “Four All-Embracing Vows” expresses the bodhisattva’s attitude. The first of the four vows—‘Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken them’—appears to be an overly idealistic and unrealistic promise. But if we look at it closely, we will notice that it doesn’t simply say, ‘I vow to awaken all sentient beings.’ It begins by acknowledging just how many living beings there are who need to be awakened. Thus, being kind to a neighbor, a stranger, or an animal can create rippling effects of kindness. A simple action may cause infinite results. If the ‘I’ who vows is separate from other people, what ‘I’ can achieve is quite limited. But if ‘I’ is not separate from all others throughout space and time, it may be possible to awaken all beings. This understanding is an essential ground for socially engaged Buddhism (Page 9).

My desire is to be a “socially engaged Buddhist.” My writing this workbook will help me discover new things about myself as I practice the techniques I am sharing, and hopefully, helping others do the same as they use the techniques in their own lives.

So let’s begin this adventure as Kaz did by reciting the four vows for a week as often as possible and wherever we can. Whether we’re sitting in meditation, contemplating the words, or writing them in our journal, whether we’re riding the train, or driving our cars, or making our beds–let’s chant. Chant aloud or silently as the environment allows. Let us not be separate from the words, the thoughts that follow, the sounds of the words, or the feelings and emotions that we feel as we chant. Let’s be one with everything. Let’s be accepting of what comes or does not come, no judgements or criticisms of ourselves, we’re simply chanting! The words are below as we chant them at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You are welcome to use them or use ones that you are familiar with.

The Four Vows
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

In gassho,


[1]Hall, M.P., O’Hare, A., Jones L.F., Santavicca, N. (2015) The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education. Innovacion Educative, ISSN: 1665-2673 vol. 15, numero 67

[2]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala Publications Inc.: Boston, MA

Read Full Post »

Do not remain in the dualistic state;
avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is a trace
of this and that, of right and wrong,
the mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the one,
do not be attached even to this one.
When mind exists undisturbed in the way,
Nothing in the world can offend,
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way. [1]

My favorite line in these verses is “When mind exists undisturbed in the way, nothing in the world can offend, and when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.” How many of us still hold a grudge or negative thoughts about someone that may have “offended” us in the past. The past could be as long ago as yesterday or 20 years—the time span does not matter. What matters is those words or deeds are still controlling our lives.

So we end up living in the past and not in the now moment. Our lives are so fleeting and yet we still spend a significant amount of our short time on planet earth remembering and holding onto the past. Thus what we are NOT doing is living in the present moment with an open mind, clear eyes, and attention to what is going on now. We’ve missed the beauty of the trees in spring, the sound of the snow beneath our feet in the winter, the joy of the sounds of our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors laughing and living life in the moment.

“Do not remain in the dualistic state” do not hold on to anything the sutra says, the good moment, the bad moment, or the insignificant moment. Let each pass by with a quiet mind accepting what comes, dealing with it in the moment as best you can and then letting go of any expectations for the future—Just this! Be one with the moment—for a time will come when that moment may just save your life, or bring you peace, or help you solve a problem in a future moment. Feel the pain, feel the joy, feel the expectation as you are experiencing it.

Suppressing life only brings physical and mental pain now and often again in a future moment. When you see a sad movie cry, when you hear a funny joke laugh, when you recite an affirmation do it with passion, when you feel like singing, sing! When you feel like sitting in the quiet, sit. When you feel like cursing—curse! Be one with everything and it will help you experience compassion for others both the criminal and the victim. And don’t be attached to anything! Let nothing offend you as it will cease to exist in the very next moment.

Just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free [2]

Just follow these words of wisdom from Paul Simon and set yourself free!
In gassho,



[1] Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

[2] Paul Simon, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Read Full Post »

Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

To deny the reality of things

is to miss their reality;

to assert the emptiness of things

is to miss their reality.

The more you talk and think about it,

the further astray you wander from the truth.

Stop talking and thinking,

and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

Once again each line is a contradiction of the next line and thus it goes.  Can we deny the reality of something and yet be told that in doing so we end up missing the reality of it and yet to assert the emptiness of things is once again to miss the reality of emptiness!  This is what I love about Buddhism and its ability to make us think about life in such a way that the frustration finally brings us to a place of giving up, a place of stopping, a place of trying NOT to figure things out.

In another translation of this poem they write these words instead:

The more you think about it,

the further you are from the truth.

Cease all thinking,

and there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.[1]

So the trick is to sit and just be still and the truth will be revealed to us in a myriad of ways.  It may come from a simple Ah Ha as we are walking down the street or through the mall.  It may come to us as a hug from a long lost friend or relative or from the words of a teacher during a talk at Zen—but come it will.

Do the right thing and the right things will happen: sit quietly in the silence, quiet the monkey mind, and “there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.”

Just today I was participating in an online book study group and the subject came up about the  genius of people like YoYo Ma and Picasso and my comment to the group was “music and art comes through them not from them.”  While in the midst of the playing or the painting or the day dreaming they wandered into emptiness and all came to them in some unimaginable way. They grabbed on to it and let it come through them with patience, with vim, with vigor, and with determination, or even with not knowing or not trying it just happened.  They did not question it or fight it or hope for something different, they went with the flow.

When was the last time you went with the ‘flow.” When was the last time you gave up the idea of being “right” or “wrong” “better” or “best”  and you simply went with what was—went with the flow.  You stopped talking and thinking and all was revealed to you?

I am sure there have been many times at work or in a personal relationship when you have thought: “I just wish everyone would stop talking!”  Can’t we take a few minutes to just sit quietly and get centered, take a few breaths and open our hearts and minds to what can be?  To sit and just let something grow and blossom on its own.  Let it manifest out of nothingness.  Deepak Chopra would say it arises from “pure potentiality.”

Remember what the Third Patriarch of Zen Seng-ts’an said, “Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know.” When you do I hope you’ll let me know what wonders appeared!

In gassho,




This old farm house is where my mother, Iona Louise Bird, was born in 1920 and lived in until the 1940’s in Quinter, Kansas.  This picture was taken in 2013 shortly after my mother’s death by her sister Wyneta. She went there to scatter my mother’s ashes as she had requested—back to emptiness from which she came.

[1] Putkonen, E. Hsin-Hsin Ming Verses on the Perfect mind by Seng-ts’an, third Patriarch of Zen; Awaken to Life with Eric Putkonen, Minneapolis, MN http://www.awaken2life.org

Read Full Post »

Eihei Dogen [Unbroken Practice] wrote, “This life of one day is a life to rejoice in. Because of this, even though you live for just one day, if you can be awakened to the truth, that one day is vastly superior to an eternal life. . . If this one day in the lifetime of a hundred years is lost, will you ever get your hands on it again? (page 60)”[1]

So today is the only day you have to begin the practice of the seventh teaching in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism: Work for the good of others. I wonder what this world would be like if each and every day I woke up with that desire in mind. I wonder what this world would be like if each and every person woke up with that desire in mind. To change the world I must first change myself. For without that there is no path at all—no less one with only eight steps.

It does no good to chastise or wonder why others do not volunteer their time to people and organizations in need, or to wonder why they do not tithe their time, talent, and treasure to organizations and individuals who are making a positive difference in the world. It does no good for me to think critical thoughts about others actions or reactions to life—that is simply a waste of time, energy, and brain power.

So, today and every day I set out to begin the day by asking myself: What can I do or say to make this a more loving, caring, and fruitful life for another? To ask not because it will make me feel better about myself (but it will) not because it will make my community and household a more loving and caring place to reside (but it will) not because it’s simply the right thing to do (but it is) but simply because I am alive.

As Dogen said, “The life of one day is a life to rejoice in.” So to begin each day with a goal of rejoicing in life is a great way to start. I will start by rejoicing that I have been given a life and with that life comes responsibility to make something of it. To do something with it—simple or grand—does not matter. What matters is to do something that works for the good of others, and gets me out of my own way. If this were the only day I had left to live, what image would I have left in the eyes and hearts and minds of those whose path I crossed.

Why was I born anyway if not for good and love and compassion? I have been given many opportunities to love and fell short, to help and walked past, that I am sure of. But as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Because you are alive everything is possible.” So I may not be able to undo that hurtful word or action, but I can do better today and tomorrow and the next day. How about you?

Great! Now let’s begin 2015 a new and each morning awake with the question: What work can I do today for the good of others? Let me know what you discover!

In gassho,


  1. Matthiessen P. (1998) Nine-Headed Dragon River, Zen Journals. Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

Read Full Post »

There are times every day when I feel that my mind is filled with cotton balls and the simplest name will not come to mind.  But then I take a few deep breaths and sit (meditate) for 5 or 10 minutes and the name will find its way up from the recesses of my brain and there it is!  I am compelled then to call the person who got me searching for this name and share my prize with him or her.

One day I was so happy to remember the name that I immediately picked up the phone, dialed my friend’s number, and shouted in the phone Al Pacino!  He said, “What?” And I repeated Al Pacino, the actor that came into my dream the other night, it was Al Pacino.  He just laughed and said, “Do you know it’s midnight?”  I apologized; we both laughed and commiserated about getting old before hanging up our phones.

Some people use external things that cloud the mind like alcohol or drugs.  Some came to a Sangha out of a desire to get help with unclouding their minds from these external things. Others came to get them unclouded from negative thoughts and feelings that were not allowing them to make good, compassionate, logical decisions about their lives. No matter what the reason sitting (meditation) and following the teachings of the Buddha will help.  But just like any bad habit–changing it does not happen overnight.

Norman Fischer in his new book Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong  (2013),  talks about cultivating a serious attitude when we desire to change something in our lives. He asks us to practice the “five strengths.”  “The Five strengths are:

1.       Strong determination
2.       Familiarization
3.       Seed of virtue
4.       Reproach
5.    Aspiration (page 68”)[1]

Strength #1 is strong determination.  To make a change in your life, regardless of what it is—Ya Gottawanna!  Once you really “want to” then and only then should you begin.  I remember being on a no carb diet sometime back and found it almost impossible not to eat one of those delicious bagels that are shared each Saturday in our morning study group after Zazen.  They sure tasted a lot better than that old rice cake I was eating!  Challenges come in all ways, places, things, and degrees.

Fischer goes on to say:

Strong determination is exactly what it sounds like. It is a practice to teach us how to take ourselves seriously as dignified spiritual practitioners. To feel as if, whatever our shortcomings (and it is absolutely necessary that we are honest, even brutally honest, about our shortcomings at every point), we also have within us a powerful energy to accomplish the spiritual path (page 69).[2]

Having strong determination helps us clear our minds, keeps us from clouding up our minds, and helps us create a happier, healthier, more loving life.

The second great tip he gives us is what he calls a technique of Familiarization and it builds on the first one.

“With familiarization, with repetition and repeated drill, comes the establishment of a new habit that is not, like the old ones, unconscious but instead is a habit you have thought about and chosen to cultivate for reasons that come out of your best motivations.  Familiarization is brain washing, washing out an otherwise musty brain, freshening it up (page 70).[3]

I just love that idea; it is like using a mouth wash on your brain!

Lastly he says “Familiarization is repetition of teachings and intentional practices for the purpose of establishing new pathways, new habits.  As we’ve said, the brain is plastic, fluid it changes with our inner and outer activity (page 69).”[4]  There is an old theory of 21 that says you must do something 21 times in order to make it a habit.  I’ve never been able to do it only 21 times, for me it usually takes 121 times, but I am persistent so I keep going and going washing that brain out whenever and wherever I need to.

I work daily to make my inner work with Buddhism express in my outer world.  Each time I am successful at that I am one step closer to living the life of a Bodhisattva. And maybe, just maybe I only have 119 more days (or lives) to familiarize myself with the practice of The Grave Precept #5 till it becomes an unconscious way of life and there is one less cloud in my mind!

Things to focus on this week:

  • Step one: Begin by deciding how you will use strong determination and familiarization to help you uncloud your mind.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the clouds appear each day.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being determined in all you do and do not rain on others with your cloudy mind.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Fischer, N. (2013) Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong . Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

Determination: Paramita #8 in our series on the 10 Paramitas

“The Gateless Gate”
The great path has no gates,
Thousands, of roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate
He walks freely between heaven and earth. (Mascetti, 2001)[1]

This is life in the 21st Century.  How many of us see the thousands of roads, opportunities, challenges, joys, and frustrations and get so befuddled that we freeze up and simply stop in our tracks?  The challenge feels overwhelming, too much for us to take on, too much to think about, too much to do, and we become impotent.  And yet when we do move ahead and accept the challenge we find that we can succeed and overcome even the most demanding and mind boggling life’s situations.

Once we find that gate and have the strength and determination to pass through it we see that it wasn’t as difficult as we may have thought.  Or the reward at the other end was greater than we could have imagined.  Or if we do not succeed we find that life did not end, that failure was easier to accept than we thought, or that our desire changed and we decided that we could live without the thing, the job, the person, or the possession.  We may even have reviewed what we truly value in life and found out that it was NOT it.

Determination is something that all of the most enlightened creative  people that we recognize on this planet had—Jesus, Shakyamuni Buddha, Mohammad, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore (Founders of the Unity Church), Thomas Edison (inventor of too many things to list), Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and you. Yes, you!  You would not be reading this if you were not on your way to enlightenment or have not had some wonderful enlightening experiences through your determination to pray, meditate, or sit. Some of those experiences may have even come simply by accident. That great universal AH HA can sneak up on us at any time, and many times when we least expect it…so keep your eyes open—it just may be right here, right now!

Notice the word “light” inside the word “enlightenment.”  These people saw the light in something that was greater than them, they paid attention, and they acted on the light and thus changed the world.

And yet, sometimes we simply need to be determined to let things go, to stop pushing, trying, thinking, mulling, and running the show. As Osho wrote:

Sitting silently,
Doing nothing,
Spring comes,
And the grass grows by itself.[2]

Enlightenment is knowing when, and if, and how to do it, or NOT—to simply be determined to let go and let the spring know how to grow the grass all by itself.

[1] Mascetti, M.D., 2001, The Little Book of Zen Haiku, Koans, Sayings, NY: Fall River Press, pg.69

[2] Ibid. page 24

Read Full Post »

Every religion on the planet has a set of rules for living encased in its message.  The Judah-Christian religion has the Ten Commandments. The Buddhists have several: The Three Refuges, The Three Pure Precepts, The Ten Grave Precepts and the Ten Paramitas.  Almost every non-religious organization has a set of rules that they live by as well. Many have created creeds for their members such as the Hippocratic Oath that the doctors take, or the business that takes on the Golden Rule for its employees, or the oath you may take if you are a Boy or Girl Scout.  Each one gives us a path by which to live, work, and play.

When I teach Customer Service skills to my corporate audiences the first thing we talk about is The Golden Rule: “Treat people the way you wish to be treated.” We talk about how it affects us when we deal with our customers and how living by this rule—or not—affects them and us.

Each one of these systems gives us a lot of things to work on and think about for sure!  But with this comes the ability to look within ourselves to see how we are dealing with the outside world and the inside world in which we live.  Are we focused on self, others, things, thoughts, information, deeds, words, or actions—or a combination of them all?

Sylvia Boorstein in her book Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake, Practicing the Perfection of the Heart Sutra (2002) says, “I am, however, tremendously glad to have the Paramitas as a spiritual practice, because they are ways of behaving, and although I am not in charge of what I think, I am—most of the time—responsible for how I act.” Wow!  She is so right.  Often times thoughts appear in my mind and I wonder, “Where the heck did that come from?!”  It may be a fear thought, an anger thought, or a jealousy thought that seemed to pop up unexpectedly in the middle of an encounter with someone, or from listening to a voice mail message, or reading a text message, or e-mail—but there it is.

The power of the thought has taken over my life for good or ill.  Depending upon how “I act,” as Sylvia says, will be the crux of my relationship from that moment forward.  If I choose to respond to the thought in a negative, angry, mean, vindictive or threatening way that could end the relationship, get me fired, or cause undue harm to the person to whom this behavior is directed.  Since I am usually a caring person I might then turn that anger, sadness, guilt or shame back on myself.  Now I’ve hurt two people and it all happened in a split second!

Reading her book has prompted me to write a series of blog posts on the 10 Paramitas.  They can be listed in many different ways often different nouns are used for them as well.  I like her list and so I’ll share them with you as she has named them:

Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Lovingkindness, Equanimity

Oddly enough she starts her teaching with Generosity.  So will I. She quotes the Buddha saying this about Generosity:

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression.

We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous.

We experience joy in the actual act of giving something.

And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”

Fantastic!  Imagine if we worked this entire week on the Paramita of generosity how joyful we could be over and over again throughout the day and evening.  We get to feel great when we begin thinking of how we could be generous today, we get to feel great when we are acting out the generosity, and then throughout the day we get to feel great about remembering how the person responded, how it might have helped him or her in some way, large or small—and remembering the look on his or her face.  It is like being able to experience the event over and over again such as eating that delicious piece of cake or enjoying that wonderful bowl of soup on a cold afternoon or evening again and again. Without the additional calories of course…how great is that!

Herman Hesse in his poem “Steps” wrote, “But only he, who travels and takes chances, can break the habits’ paralyzing stances.”  What habits do you have among the 10 Paramitas that might be worth working on?  The list is large and the actions can be, as Hesse says—paralyzing.  I hope you’ll work on these 10 with me over the next several weeks and if you do I will promise that you will have some wonderful opportunities to awaken to your true self.

Let’s begin by working on generosity for the next several days.  Upon awakening set your intention for the day before you put your feet on the floor.  Say to yourself that today you will find every opportunity, and even deliberately make opportunities, to show generosity.  They can be as simple as giving a ride to someone you know without them having to ask.  It might be holding the door for someone, or praising his or hers work or talent, or complementing them on their attitude, outfit, or smile.   Be generous with your lunch, your time, your talent, your words, your deeds.  Then you get to experience the joy of giving over and over throughout the day! How great is that!

Contact me and let me know what happens on this great adventure through the Paramitas!

Read Full Post »